The San Jose Sharks aren’t the only guys in the NHL who hate Winnipeg. Any player we’ve ever heard of with a partial no-trade clause has Winnipeg on his list of destinations to which he’d refuse to go. With no Rocky Mountains to buffer it from the Arctic winds, yeah, it gets cold there. The Jets have been battling this ever since their original days in the NHL and they’ll continue to do so forever.
We say this because in its promo for the San Jose Sharks game against the Jets Sunday afternoon, NBC Sports California went for the lowest-hanging icicle when it asked a couple of players about the worst city in the NHL. And, of course, they picked Winnipeg. Defenseman Justin Braun remarked, “Internet doesn’t work there. I don’t know if they even have Wi-Fi there yet.” Tomas Hertl chimed in with, “It’s so cold and dark there. I don’t like it there.” The spot was promoted by the network on Twitter, but it appears it has since been taken down.
It would be easy to go on the attack against Braun and Hertl for what they said, but in reality, they were probably just being good team guys who thought they would help out the local broadcaster and say something funny that would only be seen in the local market. But maybe what they should have said was, “I hate Winnipeg because the Jets are way better than we are and we frittered away a bunch of years as a Stanley Cup contender by choking in the playoffs while they’re a team on the rise. I also hate Winnipeg because they’re a bunch of points ahead of us and The Hockey News has picked them to win the Stanley Cup in 2019.” Or something like that. The Sharks, an organization that prides itself on its public image, weren't too pleased with the spot. Sharks GM Doug Wilson, who played junior in Winnipeg for one season, apologized to Jets chairman Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.
“It’s disappointing that our broadcast partner would put our players in that position," Wilson told the San Jose Mercury on Tuesday. "First of all, by even asking that question, then putting it on our broadcast. That was a question that was one of 30 that were asked earlier in the year. To me, it was an inappropriate question that should not have been asked. Whether it was an attempt at humor, it was not appropriate.”
For the record, the Sharks were in Winnipeg to finish a four-game road trip through Canada and in their two days there, the high temperature topped out a zero degrees Celsius. In Ottawa, where they played the day before, the high was minus-19. In the two days previous to that the high for their visit to Toronto was minus-7 and the best they got was minus-14 for their two days in Montreal. And we’re not even talking about Brent Burns’ plus-minus. Hey-Oh!
The Sharks lost 4-1 to the Jets in that game to drop further behind them in the standings, a game that moved the Jets back into first place in the Central Division, which just happens to be the best division in hockey. The Jets, as an organization, stopped taking umbrage to this kind of stuff a long time ago. And when asked about it, coach Paul Maurice had some really interesting things to say, as only Maurice can say them. It went like this:
“I heard it’s cold and dark. Well, that happens in Canada, occasionally, pretty regularly every winter. It’s dark at night, yeah that happens pretty much around the world. I don’t think any coach, any player, trainer, referee, should ever complain about a day in the National Hockey League. We’ve got a sold-out building, pretty sure that goes into hockey related revenues, everybody cashes their cheque. The thread count at your hotel isn’t right or your frappacino isn’t frothed right – I don’t even know what a frappacino is – but my point being, we’ve got nothing to complain about. A pretty good life, every day. Every city’s a pretty darn good one.”
As we said before, the Jets are always going to have to battle these kinds of things. Their attitude is that because they’re almost never going to get prime unrestricted free agents, it’s up to them to bring players they draft and develop into their organization and make them want to stay there. And there are clear indications they’re beginning to win on that front. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, who had no choice when the team relocated from Atlanta, could have signed anywhere in the NHL, but he re-upped for five years when he became an unrestricted free agent in 2016. When Mark Scheifele became a restricted free agent the same summer, he opted to sign a maximum term eight-year deal with the Jets. It will be interesting to see what scoring machine Patrik Laine opts to do when he becomes eligible to sign a long-term extension this summer.
Meanwhile, nobody is talking about Winnipeg as a destination if the possible crown jewel of free agency, John Tavares, doesn’t re-sign with the Islanders. Although, come to think of it, that would be awesome. Tavares would be part of a team that has a real chance to win a Stanley Cup and the Jets would have a center ice corps of Scheifele, Tavares, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little. Set aside $84 million and a block heater and make it happen, Jets. And if the Islanders are out of it and in a selling mood at the trade deadline, put in your dibs. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll get him there and convince him to stay.
It’s more likely the Jets will continue on their path of drafting and developing well, which, as we’ve predicted, will lead to a Stanley Cup parade down Portage Avenue in June 2019. And it will be a lot warmer there then.
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